Circles Brazilian Style

IIRP has just added an article to their library covering Dominic Barter’s work in Brazil.  It’s worth a read. I’ve had a 2 1/2 day training from Dominic and was very impressed with his work. Last week, Meganwind and Ross from Bay Area Non-Violent Communications came to our office and gave staff a one-hour overview of Dominic’s approach. It was an excellent mini-training that included a “semi-simulation”, which is a very effective type of role-play. I’ve been influenced by Dominic’s approach in how I work with many of the circles I am doing in schools, especially in cases where there is not a clear victim-offender relationship.

While there is significant overlap between what Dominic does and the way we do restorative conferences for cases of  juvenile crime, there are also some differences:

Dominic avoids using labels like “victim” and “offender.” Instead, he uses “Author” and “recipient.” While we recognize that using the terms victim and offender can raise issues, we also feel that there is value in their matter-of-factness. They accurately describe, in most cases, the roles in the relationship at the time it in came into being, or at a pivotal and dramatic point in the “story” of the relationship. Also, while some people object to being called “victim,” others actually feel re-victimized if their victimhood is not acknowledged, or is minimized. For many, an important part of the restorative process occurs from feeling fully supported in their experience of victimhood.

In many processes–and I think this is true of Dominic’s–the needs of all participants are given equal priority.  While this is a great thing to aspire to, in our approach the needs of the victim are primary.  We view the offender(s) as having incurred obligations as a consequence of their actions. Obligations are directly related to impacts on the victim–not on the offender–and are the basis for the agreements regarding how to make things right. We therefore have expectations of the offender that we are careful not to impose upon victims.

There is fertile ground here to have discussions and learn from each other. In my view, it’s too early in the development of the field to take positions that one approach is right and the others are heresy. We need diversity, and we need to be open to the types of inquiry that diversity supports and encourages.

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